By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Blackalicious may not have released an album since 2002's breakthrough Blazing Arrow, but this year the band members have continued to cement their reputation as some of the most compelling hip hop artists in the nation with a string of solo projects. Applying an approach that refutes the notion that complexity and fun are mutually exclusive in hip hop, Blackalicious produces genre-defying music that initially challenges yet ultimately rewards the listener. Chief Xcel's throwback productions leap from Philly-style soul to thick slabs of funk to lush pop arrangements, and they do so in such a seamless manner that the connections always seem logical and never forced. As one half of Maroons -- along with Bay Area MC and Lyrics Born collaborator Lateef the Truth Speaker -- Xcel released one of the Bay Area's most sonically adventurous CDs of the year, Ambush. "Lester Hayes" and "Best of Me" are some of his strongest works to date, proving once again that the Chief is an expert at intertwining live instruments into his productions. In 2004, Blackalicious MC Gift of Gab released his long-awaited solo record, Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up. With cosmic underpinnings and Gab's usual blend of heady wordplay and emotional transparency, Rocketshipsmay have surprised most fans, but it disappointed few. While we're glad to see the guys exploring new territory, here's hoping that 2005 brings a new full-length release from the reigning kings of underground hip hop.
DJ Relm, aka Michael Wong, began mixing in 1994, saving up funds from his job at Round Table Pizza in order to buy records. Ten years later, he is an accomplished turntablist known throughout the world. Relm honors the culture of the DJ not only by being one himself, but also through his original music compositions and his film and video work dedicated to the art form. He is the producer of several "skratch records," from 1998's Adventures of Sperm Boy: Defender of the Uterus to the more recent The Zodyax Scop System Levels 1-12, his series based on a new scratch technique he invented. These indispensable tools for DJs have helped gain Relm an appreciative international fan base. In 1999, he took home the title at the U.S. edition of the International Turntablist Federation (ITF) championship DJ battle, as well as second place at the ITF World Finals, solidifying his reputation as a leading talent. Relm is a featured DJ in the 2002 documentary Scratch, and he served as director and music supervisor for the making-of featurette of fellow DJ Q-Bert's Wave Twisters film. He has also hosted educational forums on turntablist culture for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and San Francisco State University. 2004 has been a lively year for Relm. He recently toured with Money Mark in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand after playing at several European summer festivals with D-Sharp and the Lifesavas, and now finds himself on the road with local hip hop hero Gift of Gab.
DJ Tom Thump
Tom Thump's been rocking the ones and twos for decades, but he's only recently received the kind of mainstream attention that fans on three continents feel he deserves. From his humble beginnings as Tom Simonian, a radio DJ with a reggae show on a small station in Ann Arbor, Mich., to his current perch at the epicenter of the local club circuit, Tom Thump has kept the body movin' with his signature blend of jazz, hip hop, and house.
Since hitting the scene at 26, Thump has spun at raves in L.A., been a resident at "Mushroom Jazz" here in San Francisco, and managed Groove Merchant, the record store that's so influential in the vinyl world it was name-dropped by the Beastie Boys on their Check Your Head album. Thump's 2001 debut, Panatone: Warm, earned the turntablist major props from critics and a chance to share a DJ booth with beatmasters like Tricky, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Jazzanova, Femi Kuti, and more.
The buzz on Thump, already at a fever pitch on the West Coast and across the pond, is poised to get even louder thanks to URBmagazine, which recently tagged him as one of its "Next 100" DJs to watch for. When he's not busy giving interviews or making appearances at industry to-dos like Miami's Winter Music Conference, Thump can be found spinning at "Twice as Nice," his 4-year-old club night at 111 Minna, not to mention at his "Playland," "Mash It Up!," "Budonkadonk," "Sex/ Money/Freaks," and "Othership Connection" parties.
Los Angeles' the Exies are singer/guitarist Scott Stevens, bassist Freddy Herrera, guitarist David Walsh, and drummer Dennis Wolfe. The quartet formed in 1997 but didn't release its self-titled debut until 2000, when a slew of industry buzz led to a signing with Ultimatum Records. Three years later, the band gained significantly more notoriety when Virgin Records released its sophomore effort, Inertia, which found the Exies eschewing the straightforward rock of their first release, instead opting for Nine Inch Nails-style arrangements, pulsating electronics, and studio trickery to spice up Stevens' screamed Stone Temple Pilots-esque melodies. After spending much of 2003 and 2004 touring and making appearances on Letterman and Last Call With Carson Daly, the band began writing Head on the Door, which is slated for release in November. The record was produced by Nick Raskulinecz, famous for his work with the Foo Fighters and Velvet Revolver. This time around, the Exies abandoned the direction they took with Inertia, looking instead for "big drums and punchy, tight guitars." Head on the Door fits in perfectly with the current big boys of modern rock. Linkin Park-y vocals yelp out themes of loss, politics, and loneliness, while distorted guitars chuck and squeal alongside hard-rocking drums. The band members even claim their latest batch of songs is the "edgiest, loudest, and most explosive" stuff they've ever written, which makes them excited about the rigorous tour schedule they have planned to promote the record.